American couple stuck in Ukraine after adopting four orphans: "I could see the glow of fire"
Jenkins family
February 25th, 2014
06:44 PM ET

American couple stuck in Ukraine after adopting four orphans: "I could see the glow of fire"

(CNN) - Trapped. That's how Don and Lisa Jenkins of Topeka, Kansas are feeling as they hunker down in an apartment in the Ukraine. They are trying to adopt four children amid a revolution - and it hasn't been easy. Their biggest challenge? Getting government records and the sign-offs they need in a country that is essentially without a government. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has fled the country and interim officials say a new government will not be put in place before Thursday.

So Don and Lisa Jenkins wait.

The American couple first visited Kiev around the time the protests started, in November, to jumpstart the adoption process. After picking up the children from an orphanage in a small Ukrainian village earlier this month, they arrived in Kiev for a second time to sort out the remaining paperwork. What they didn't know is the situation on the streets was about to take a turn for the worse.

Diplomatic gears moving as new Ukrainian government takes shape

For a week, the Jenkins family has been on the frontline, holed up in an apartment a half-mile from Kiev's Independence Square. This is where the most violent clashes occurred last week - where buildings and people were lit on fire, hostages were taken, limbs and lives were lost. All they had to do was look out of their window to see just how close to the violence they were.

"If I looked out the bedroom window, I could see the glow of fire,” says Don Jenkins. “At that point, we're scared to death. That one morning, like at 4 o'clock, it really got out of control and they started throwing firebombs in the buildings."

There have been many anxious moments. One day, his wife Lisa and the girls were going out, and as they stepped out of the apartment building, they were met with as many as 75 protesters. “The kids ran back in,” says Jenkins. “At that point, we’re just going to stay in.” His wife came back up and filmed the protesters going by from the window.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxFVyJp90Nk?rel=0&w=420&h=315%5D

“This is supposed to be a very happy time in their life,” says Jenkins. “All they wanted was a family. So we’ve been celebrating the whole way, and then we come up to Kiev and on the first day we’re here, we can’t go outside in fear of our lives because we don’t know if the protesters are going to expand. We were told they were attacking government buildings, but all the buildings are pretty dilapidated and it’s hard to tell a government building from a regular building. We're trying not to look frightened in front of the kids because we don't want them to be worried.”

But they are worried. One child asked Lisa, "Does this mean we're not going to America?"

The children have already been through a lot. Two girls had two previous adoptions fall through. “Even when we told them we were going to adopt them, there was still a lot of doubt,” Jenkins says.

'We were trapped': Eyewitness to the massacre in Kiev

They are also adopting an 8-year-old boy named Roman. He has microcephaly, a rare neurological condition in which a child's head is significantly smaller than normal for his age. Before landing at the orphanage, authorities found Roman living in deplorable conditions. "At the age of 5, he was living in a dog house," Jenkins says. “Everything he ate, he dug up out of the ground himself. He’d never been taught to eat off of a plate. Never bathed himself. The parents would be gone all day and when they would come home they would give him a smoked pig’s ear to chew on. That was his meat for the day.”

Since being at the orphanage, Roman had greatly improved - so they were conflicted about adopting him and interrupting his progress. “Our thought was, is it really wise to pull him out and take him to a country where he’s going to have to learn a new language,” Jenkins says. “We prayed about it, and we asked for a sign. We wanted God to let us know what the decision should be.” During a second visit to see Roman, they hadn’t gotten the sign they were looking for – until Don was saying his goodbyes. “I got down on my knees because he’s so tiny,” he says. “Someone said, ‘give papa a hug’ and he ran to me and leapt into my arms and would not let me go. I lost my composure, my wife’s crying, the teachers are crying, the kids are crying. I thought, ‘this one’s coming home with us because there’s no way I’m telling him no after this.’”

The Jenkinses may be saviors to these children, but in Kiev, they feel helpless as parents. “Here we’re taking these kids into our family and I don’t feel we can adequately protect them,” Jenkins says. For a couple of days, all they had to eat was the junk food they’d had in a knapsack: potato chips, chocolate, and soda. To pass the time, the kids would play on their iPhones. Now that the situation has eased, the family can venture out to the supermarket, and they even took the kids to the mall to give them a reprieve from feeling like they are under siege. When they go out, they let the children gab in Ukrainian so that they fit in.

Alabama couple journeys into Ukraine's bloody riots - to adopt four orphans

The family is slowly making progress with the Ukrainian government. They have two passports for two children and are hoping to get the remaining two this week. Back home in Kansas, they have two grown sons waiting for their return. They’ve missed two months of work at Burlington Northern Railroad and are not getting paid. Don is already using up his last vacation days for 2014. “We’re here spending money to sit in a room and do nothing,” Jenkins says. “We’ve been putting things on credit cards... but you know, I would do it all over again. These kids are priceless.”

When the Jenkinses finally do get back to Kansas, the first thing they’re going to do is have Christmas for the kids. “We left the tree up,” says Jenkins.

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Filed under: International • OutFront Extra
January 17th, 2014
10:01 PM ET

Father of 4-year-old tortured to death while in prison released

(CNN) The father of four-year-old Myls Dobson has been temporarily released from jail, nine days after the toddler was allegedly tortured to death by his caregiver. Okee Wade was reportedly released by a judge so that he can bury his son.

The ordeal began in mid-December when Wade was arrested for alleged bank fraud, and Myls needed someone to care for him. It's not clear how he ended up in the care of 27-year-old Kryzie King - she says Wade left Myls with her - but what is known is little Myls suffered horrible acts of violence and neglect, allegedly at the hands of King. Police say he was bound, gagged, beaten burned and starved by King. She has pleaded not guilty to first-degree charges of assault.

Dad of tortured boy Myls Dobson to be freed from jail to go to funeral

Amid the abuse, Myles' mother Ashlee Dobson had been out of the picture. A spokesman for Dobson tells CNN she lost custody of her son for financial reasons. She last saw Myls in November.

There have been questions about how this young child was let down by so many adults. If, for instance, there was any suspicion of neglect, why didn't anyone in the family speak up? How did Wade end up with custody of Myles when he reportedly had a rap sheet with 13 arrests? And why didn't Child Protective Services intervene when Wade was arrested?

The latter question is one Dobson wants answered. "The city of New York put the child in the care of the father, who they knew was a felon," says Tony Herbert, who is advising Dobson and speaking on her behalf.

In the meantime, a young, innocent child must be put to rest. It seems the family, now that Myls is gone, is coming together to say goodbye. Whatever Wade's role may have been in leaving their child behind, Herbert tells CNN he is "certainly invited" to partake in burial services. "I would assess that it's open arms with regards to the fact that he's the baby's father and he's welcomed to be there," Herbert says. "The mother has been working with his side of the family… in identifying clothing that the baby is going to wear. She just wants to bury her son and with respect and honor."

The family plans on sending Myls to South Carolina to bury him in the Wade family plot. Services are scheduled for Tuesday.

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Filed under: Crime • Justice • News
OutFront Q&A: Documentarian Robert Greenwald on latest film "War on Whistleblowers"
April 26th, 2013
08:00 AM ET

OutFront Q&A: Documentarian Robert Greenwald on latest film "War on Whistleblowers"

Documentarian Robert Greenwald's flashy films have been described as "liberal pieces of agit-prop," but in his latest film "War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State," both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations are in his crosshairs for their lack of transparency and their willingness to make examples out of whistleblowers in a post 9/11 world. And there's a big pond to fish from: nearly a million people have top-secret clearance, according to the film.

Greenwald has previously made documentaries about Fox News, Wal-Mart and the Koch Brothers under his advocacy organization Brave New Foundation, but he insists everybody and everything is fair game, so long, he says, as he's exposing weaknesses in the system. I spoke with him earlier this week about the "War on Whistleblowers."


CNN: What was the catalyst for this project?

Greenwald: We became aware of the crackdown on whistleblowers. It was troubling but it didn’t seem at first blush like there was enough for a film. Then through research and reading, we began to realize that the crackdown on the national security whistleblowers was directly related to the power, influence and expansion of the national security state. One of most important elements was every single whistleblower that we interviewed told a version of the same story, which is they’d seen something, they’d heard something, they realized they could not in good conscience remain silent, they tried to reach out, they tried to report, going through channels where they worked and they came up against a stone wall. And what each one of them did was they turned to the press. FULL POST

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Filed under: National Security • News • OutFront Extra • OutFront Staff • Politics
April 9th, 2013
01:49 PM ET

Hillary, Oprah, Angelina celebrate 4th annual Women in the World Summit

It's fitting that last week's 4th annual Women in the World summit featured women running it. Oprah. Angelina. Hillary.

They were at Manhattan's Lincoln Center to honor women working in the trenches - from those fighting for basic rights in their countries, like choosing to enter the workforce over being forced to stay at home, to women who see themselves as their country's first female president, whether they say it out loud or not (we're talking to you, Hillary).

It was a collision of people from all walks of life and an explosion of ideas that made us all in the audience want to do something too to change the world's inequities. But with so many creative juices flowing, actress America Ferrera jokes that it's so easy to vow you'll to be a driver of change, you forget days later what it was you had in mind.

Amidst it all, you realize that we all have something in common. At some point in our lives - whether you're Oprah or Hillary - we all started out with a blank slate and it's up to us to fill it. Here's how some women in the world are filling theirs.

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Filed under: International • OutFront Extra • OutFront Staff
Life after Sandy: Letter from Red Hook, Brooklyn
January 15th, 2013
06:47 PM ET

Life after Sandy: Letter from Red Hook, Brooklyn

(CNN) It's been 79 days since Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Northeast, and still, some people in the New York City area are without heat and hot water. A simple thing like grabbing a midnight snack out of the refrigerator remains elusive for some people.

I saw the struggle firsthand over the weekend when my fiance and I took a volunteer shift to help some homeowners edge back from the brink. We were in Red Hook, a neighborhood in Brooklyn known for its industrial waterfront, taco trucks, Ikea and in recent years, its artists and artisan foods.

FEMA funds are quickly drying up here in this "Zone A" area, a high-risk designation that means flood insurance is limited and incredibly expensive if it's available at all.

House prepares to vote again on Sandy aid

Many neighborhood staples are still struggling - from the 40,000-square-foot Fairway supermarket, which remains closed, to the mom and pops that line the Main Street here known as Van Brunt. FULL POST

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Filed under: "Superstorm" Sandy • Opinion • OutFront Staff